Normal Rockwell’s best-known illustration is called “Freedom from Want”—I guarantee you’ve seen it before. It’s the quintessential Thanksgiving meme. But this iconic image of family togetherness and prosperity is, frankly, at odds with reality. I found a parody version of Rockwell’s Thanksgiving family gathering by artist Jerry Miller—in it, grandpa is tipsy, grandma is an enabler, grandkids are bored and distracted and snarky, and parents are judgmental and fake. One version of this scene is aspirational, and one is closer to real.
In the church, we hold onto a picture our life, and of Jesus, that fits better at the Norman Rockwell table, not the parody table. But Jesus sat at real tables with real people and had real emotions—the whole gamut…
- In Luke 11, He’s invited by a Pharisee to break bread with a crowd of religious leaders. He sits down, neglecting the religious custom of washing His hands first. That doesn’t go down well with this crowd. So Jesus launches into them: “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools!” And when a lawyer sitting at the table tries to inform Jesus that He’s coming off insulting, we get Round Two: “You crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.” This is one awkward, divisive table. (Luke 11:37-54)
- When Jesus is invited to the Pharisee Simon’s home, an “immoral woman” crashes the dinner party, anointing Jesus’s feet with costly perfume and her tears. Simon is astonished by Jesus’s unconcerned response to this, so Jesus tells him a parable about people who are released from a great debt and respond by worshipping the debt-canceler. Then He tells Simon the woman has given Him the generous hospitality of someone released from her debt of sin, while the host has disrespected and ignored Him. Awkward, divisive table #2. (Luke 7:36-50)
At your Thanksgiving table this year, will you invite people to share what they’re thankful for, as you always do? Likely, you won’t ask them to share what they’re angry about, right? And yet, around His own tables, Jesus expressed thankfulness, respect, and delight for the way some were living their God-following life—and fury, contempt, and alarm over the way others were living their God-following life.
Likewise, in the church today, we basically follow one of two paths as we live out our Christian identity. The first is modeled by the Pharisees, the second is modeled by a disparate collection of outcasts and desperate people, including Peter.
- The Path of the Pharisees – characterized by should’s, a performance orientation, disciplined and self-sourced goodness, and self-redemption.
- The Path of Peter – characterized by self-awareness, a magnetic attraction to the person of Jesus, abandonment in relationship to Him, and a life of conscious need—like a thirsty person drinking from the well of Jesus, over and over.
In the church, for a long time, the way of the Pharisees has been the road most traveled. The way of Peter has been the road less traveled. The Pharisees, then and now, promote a kind of “shoulding” life, where everyone is expected to live a pristine life of goodness, but no one really does. Remember, Jesus urged the people who were drinking at the well of the Pharisees to pay attention to their Scriptural teaching (the Word of God), but dismiss the way they lived their lives.
The way of Peter is the way of encountering beauty, wonder, and relational passion in the person of Jesus. And we cannot be shoulded into this… We are living the Christian life, and inviting others to do the same, when we come back to the beauty… Instead of tacitly demanding that we worship Him, Jesus invites us to taste and see how good He is, then (metaphorically) wash His feet with our tears and dry them with our hair. That happens only when we invite people to “taste and see” His goodness and beauty.
Here’s my encouragement: this Thanksgiving – find ways to frame and spotlight the upending, transformational beauty in the heart of Jesus. Invite others to behold with you. Come back to the beauty.
(If you would like help in facing your own congregation’s challenges and opportunities, reach to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into a hopeful future.)
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of theJesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution,The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his latest book, Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church, will release. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.